School of Physics & Astronomy

School of Physics & Astronomy

UCAS  Overview

St Andrews viewed from the Cathedral ruinsSt. Andrews is a picturesque small town on the east coast of Scotland some 50 miles north of Edinburgh.  The University is Scotland's first, and has about 7000 students studying in the faculties of Science, Arts, and Divinity.  The School of Physics and Astronomy has almost 40 members of teaching staff and around 60 research staff and around 80 research students [2014]. As such, it is large enough to provide a wide coverage of physics and astronomy at undergraduate level and lively enough to produce significant research, but at the same time it is small enough for staff and students to be able to interact with each other in a way that may not be possible at much larger institutions.  

We believe we provide a special learning environment, including excellent teaching of physics in outstanding facilities.  You may wish to go to our web-page designed for potential undergraduate students, or head straight to our Home Page.

Degree Content

We have three main entry levels, and two main exit points. All our degree programmes accept entry at level one, from where a BSc honours programme may be completed in four years, and an MPhys/Sci (where it exists) in five. Single-honours degees within the School and joint honours degrees with maths accept entry at level-two from where the BSc honours degree may be completed in three years and the MPhys in four. The Gateway entry route is a special programme for those from a widening participation background, and a BSc honours degree can be obtained in four years and an MPhys in five. Students may graduate after level four with a BSc honours degree, or, for some programmes, after level five with an integrated masters degree.

The programmes leading to single-honours degrees within the School of Physics and Astronomy have been structured to allow well-qualified Advanced Higher and A levels applicants direct entry to level-two. Students may thus graduate with a BSc honours degree at the end of level four (ie after three years), or continue for an additional year and an MPhys degree instead.  

Highers qualified students and all those wishing to take a broad first year can enter at level-one. This first year in physics covers material at a level similar to Advanced Higher and parts of the A-level syllabus, as well as mathematics and other modules chosen from across the University.  Level-two starts from Advanced-Higher / A-level standard, and starts to develop major topic areas in physics,  where appropriate astronomy, and mathematics. 

Dr Korolkova leads a discussion on her research topic of theoretical quantum information processingThe subsequent two years can lead to a BSc honours degree in Astrophysics or Physics.  By appropriate choice of modules the following combined BSc degrees may be completed by the end of year four:-  Physics and Computer Science, Physics and Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy.

Those students who have done sufficiently well in the earlier parts of their studies can choose to take a programme that has an additional year of study for the more advanced undergraduate degree of MPhys in:- Astrophysics, Physics, Theoretical Physics, Theoretical Physics and Mathematics, and also the MSci degree in Physics and Chemistry.

Our teaching aims to emphasise an understanding of the ideas behind the relevant topic areas.   Our courses are designed to be interesting, current, relevant, and thought provoking. 

Gateway to Physics and Astronomy

This is an opportunity for entry to physics at St Andrews University for those from a "widening participation" background. Demand for the existing programmes is so high that our asking rates have had to rise to a level that means that even very talented pupils in many parts of the country may find it difficult to gain entry (eg AAAA is the typical asking rate at Higher for entry to physics and astronomy at St Andrews in 2017). To address this issue, we now offer a “Gateway” programme that will provide a highly-interactive first year university education in physics, maths and study skills for suitably qualified students from a "widening participation" background (likely asking rate ABBB at Higher, plus careful consideration of circumstances, and equivalent). At the end of first year this will open up progression to second-year of the range of physics and astronomy degree programmes we run. In this way the institution can recognise the disadvantage experienced by some potential entrants, and provide a means for assisting these people in attaining their potential.



A mix of continuous assessment and end-of-module examinations is in place.   Details can be found in the web-based handbooks for years one and two and for years three, four and five (honours), again via our Staff and Students page.

Level three experiment in superconductivity

Career Opportunities

The skills and knowledge obtained in the degree course makes graduates attractive to many physics-based endeavours such as optical and radio communications, energy production, environmental monitoring, manufacturing industry, and fundamental research. Other graduates are also attracted by the financial sector, management careers, and other more general areas of employment, where the transferable skills of the numerate, problem solving, and investigative physical scientist are much appreciated. The Prospects website gives details of where physics graduates (and others) from across the UK have entered employment.   Our University has a good Careers Centre.


We do not currently usually interview students as part of the admissions procedure, except for those applying to the Gateway programme.  However, all prospective students are welcome to visit to talk with staff about study at St Andrews.  The University organises visiting days on selected Wednesdays through the year and a Saturday in February. If your travel plans call for another date, please contact the School directly to see if we can organise a special visit for you.

Tutorial Support

Level one tutorialA major feature of our courses is the amount and quality of tutorial support that is available to support lecture courses and independent study.  In level-one physics students normally meet in groups of up to about eight students once a week to discuss their work with a tutor, and also have one workshop session where problem-solving is practised with expert help at hand.  In level-two students in groups of four or five meet weekly for a tutorial, and there is also one workshop-style problem-solving session per week.  The tutorial arrangements in level-three are similar to that in level-two, but also include the small-group skills-tutorials in the Transferable-Skills for Physicists module.  Tutorials in the final years are organised from within particular lecture modules.  As well as these timetabled sessions, the student-staff ratio in the School means that students are invited to contact the academic staff on a one-to-one basis when the need arises.  The staff are pleased to have the reputation of being accessible to students.

Number of Students on Programmes

A workshop session in level-two physicsAround 60-90 students graduate each year with a degree in physics or astrophysics.   Due to the increasing specialisation through a degree programme, we normally have the maximum class sizes in year-one, of up to about 140 students.  Class sizes in the final years range from around 90 to around 6, depending on the module.



The 0.94 m Gregory TelescopeWork Experience

Although there is no formal (accredited) work-experience in our main degree structure, we offer assistance to students wishing to take up relevant employment in their summer vacations. In addition, our Student-Staff Council organises a competitive scheme for prestigious summer placements at places such as Fermilab (Chicago). Some students choose to spend a summer working with one of our research teams.

Ratings - Teaching and Research

Our teaching programmes are formally reviewed every few years, and get pleasingly positive results. Our School's research in the 2014 Research Excellence Framework was ranked (with Edinburgh) third equal of UK physics departments for quality, and top in Scotland. In 2013 the UK Institute of Physics re-accredited all our BSc and MPhys degrees. The School (and University) have often done very well in the National Student Survey for student satsifaction.

Tunable laser in teaching labStudy Facilities

We benefit from a modern building with purpose-built facilities. Essentially all our teaching is done in this building or in the adjoining mathematical sciences building.  The University Observatory, which is available to our students, is about ten minutes walk away in the middle of the University playing fields.  This observatory includes the largest operational optical telescope in the UK (pictured above).  Entrant students who apply by the published deadline are almost guaranteed a study-bedroom in a University Residence, most of which are within ten minutes walk of our building.

Study Time

Students in physics and astronomy can expect to have around 12-15 lectures a week, one to three tutorials a week, and up to three afternoons of laboratory work, across all modules being studied.  As a guide, we suggest about 40 hours of study (including timetabled sessions) overall per week.

last updated BDS 9.17